In this article, we look at some of the most interesting young players who could make a break­through during inter­na­tion­al tournaments this summer.

Kobbie Mainoo

Certain young footballers are so surprising that it almost seems like there must be a mistake. It’s impossible, you tell yourself, that at nineteen years old, someone could play so well with such confidence and vision. I must have looked at the birth date wrong or maybe he played somewhere else before and I didn't notice; he can't be a debutant.

This is more or less what people thought when they saw Kobbie Mainoo play for the first time with Manchester United's first team last November against Everton. Playing alongside Scott McTominay in midfield, what was surprising about Mainoo was the rhythm, composure, and confidence with which he manipulated the ball. Is it possible that a player so technically gifted, with such mature vision and dynamism, just appears out of nowhere?

In fact, he didn’t come out of nowhere. Mainoo already made his debut in the Premier League in February 2023 (one appearance on the field last season) and had been integrated into the first team since last summer, before an ankle injury forced him to undergo surgery. What we see on the field, therefore, is a young player who has already had to face a difficult moment and probably doesn't want to waste any more time.

Mainoo seized his opportunity perfectly, securing a starting spot in one of Manchester United's most challenging seasons in recent years, in which Ten Hag's team managed to maximize by winning the FA Cup in the final derby against Manchester City. After Garnacho's opening goal, Mainoo was free in the penalty box, and Bruno Fernandes served him with a beautiful no-look pass. Mainoo calmly and coolly slotted in the 2-0 (the match eventually ended 2-1). At nineteen years old, he made his mark on a trophy that wasn’t at all certain United would win.

Kobbie Mainoo's heat map from Wyscout Player Report

In the Premier League, he scored 3 goals in 29 appearances (24 of which were as a starter), all very beautiful efforts: a curled shot from the edge of the box after nutmegging an opponent against Wolverhampton; a back-to-goal control and shot into the far post against Liverpool; a control in the center of the box and precise shot against Newcastle. With his technique, Mainoo can act as a playmaker, and with a more defensive partner like Amrabat at the end of the season, he can make an impact in the offensive third. He can also play on the right or left in a pair of midfielders or as a mezzala (side midfielder): simply put, he plays well in all positions.

Having grown up in south Manchester and been with United since he was nine, Mainoo has already received the greatest compliment he could wish for from a legend like Paul Scholes, who said Mainoo is "ten times better than I was at nineteen."

Last March, he debuted for the national team against Brazil, and a few days later, he started against Belgium and was duly named man of the match. After just six months among professionals, it’s hard to imagine his potential. Today, everyone knows Kobbie Mainoo and expects great things from him, even if Kobbie himself, when asked about it, said that apart from a few more people recognizing him when he goes shopping at the corner store, he doesn’t feel like much has changed from a year ago.

Benjamin Sesko

They’ve called him the new Haaland because he also made a name for himself at Red Bull Salzburg, and then the new Ibrahimovic because he’s tall, plays with finesse, and is particularly skilled in acrobatics. Benjamin Sesko has been talked about since he was 18, impressing in Austria’s second division with his nearly two-meter-tall frame and the deft touch of an attacking midfielder. Now 21, his talent is beginning to assert itself as everyone predicted. At Leipzig, where he arrived in the summer moving from one “Red Bull galaxy” team to another, he finished the season with 18 goals despite not always being a starter.

After a lukewarm start to the season, he began scoring with impressive regularity from the end of January, which was somewhat lacking in his game, as often happens with young players. “He had to get used to how things go here,” said Marco Rose, adding that “it was immediately clear what his potential was.” Sesko scored 11 goals in his last 15 matches, and now all eyes are on him as everyone looks for the striker of the future. Sesko has improved significantly in finishing: if he used to be a striker for beautiful goals, now he’s becoming one who can score in all ways: with his right, left (he shoots powerfully with both feet), head, with strength, and finesse.

Benjamin Sesko's finishing dashboard from Wyscout Player Report

But Sesko adds much more to his goals: despite his physique, the Slovenian is very fast in open play, has a good vision of the game, and a flair for plays. Paradoxically, he needs to improve in using his physique in duels with opponents, but that’s something that comes with time and working in the gym. In a football world where it’s said that great strikers are disappearing, Sesko is a good hope that it’s not the case.

Martin Baturina

Martin Baturina only made his debut with the senior national team in November 2023 and has just three appearances for Croatia. However, he is one of the country’s brightest talents. Baturina initially started as a mezzala and also played in a two-man midfield, but over time his position advanced. At Dinamo Zagreb, he acts as an attacking midfielder. Sometimes he starts nominally as a winger, but he never actually stays on the wing because he always moves into central areas.

This past season was his third among professionals, the one in which he definitively established himself as a decisive player in the final third. This year, he scored five goals and provided eight assists in the league but, above all, he gave the impression of having the technical quality worthy of a talented Croatian midfield.

Baturina loves to get close to the ball to receive it facing forward. If he sees the field in front of him, he has the class and clean ball-control typical of the best Balkan talents. When he starts with the ball at his feet, he moves between opponents and catches them off guard. Near the penalty box, he moves close to his teammates for one-twos. If he can create a shot from sixteen meters, he can be lethal, given his excellent shooting skills with both his right and left foot. In short, Baturina is a productive attacking midfielder but is also delightful to watch for the elegance with which he maneuvers the ball.

In a country struggling with generational change in football, Baturina seems to be one of the new names, an attacking midfielder capable of making a difference and disrupting opposing lines even during the match.

Arthur Vermeeren

Until a few months ago, the term "predestined" did not sound rhetorical when associated with Arthur Vermeeren. Born in Lier, one of those Flemish villages where pastel-colored buildings are reflected in the canals, he made his debut for Royal Antwerp in the summer of 2022, at just 17 years old, after Radja Nainggolan was excluded from the team for being caught vaping on the bench.

Luck is one of the fingers of that invisible hand we imagine guiding events when we talk about predestination, but Vermeeren immediately proved he wasn’t there by chance. He became an immediate starter in the team coached by Mark van Bommel, and by the end of the season, he would win all the national titles at stake in Belgium (league, cup, and super cup), including individual awards at his disposal (best young player of the season).

During the 2023/24 season, Vermeeren's rise to elite football seemed unstoppable. In mid-October, he made his debut with the senior national team in a crucial away victory against Austria; in mid-December, he scored his first Champions League goal in Antwerp's shocking 3-2 victory against Barcelona, a match in which he was also voted Man of the Match by UEFA. At 18, Vermeeren already seemed too big for Belgian football, and a few weeks later, Atletico Madrid decided to spend 18 million euros on him, moving quickly before his price could rise any higher.

On the second available occasion, against Rayo Vallecano, "El Cholo" Simeone started him, demonstrating high expectations for his new signing. Things, however, didn’t go as imagined. At the end of the first half, Vermeeren missed a deep run by an opponent, leading to Rayo’s temporary equalizer (although Atletico Madrid eventually won 2-1). Simeone substituted him at halftime and gave him just another 135 minutes of play for the rest of the season.

Vermeeren has the great advantage of being a player for all tastes. This is shown by the fact that he attracted interest from two teams with opposite philosophies like Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and is appreciated by different managers and coaches. Marc Overmars, Royal Antwerp's technical director, described him as a "Barcelona-y" player, comparing him to Xavi and Iniesta; Mark van Bommel, the Belgian team’s coach, described him as "an intelligent footballer and a fun guy to work with."

Just watching him play, you can appreciate all the nuances of Vermeeren’s talent. A midfielder with outstanding defensive talent akin to basketball players who catch all the rebounds, but also a player who loves to dribble in tight spaces and who, with a low center of gravity and quick legs, seems to gain speed with the ball at his feet. Vermeeren is not always clean in his choices but seems to need to touch many balls to get into the game, and without the ball, he is one of those players who already have all the angles and rebounds of passes. One of those players who, as they say, every coach would want to have.

Adam Wharton

Six months ago, Adam Wharton was playing in the Championship with his boyhood club Blackburn Rovers. Since February, he has been part of Crystal Palace's midfield (the team most represented in the English national team, with 4 players) and has joined Gareth Southgate's squad, a team from which players like Jack Grealish and James Maddison have been excluded. He skipped through the youth national teams with great strides (a handful of appearances with the U19, U20, and U21) and barely had time to make his friendly debut against Bosnia before being called up for his first major international tournament. In 4 months, he has reached the top of the English football pyramid and is still only twenty years old.

With low socks and a composure that makes him appear strangely mature, Wharton is a left-footed midfielder, technical and precise in his passes, who loses few balls and recovers many. A less offensive profile compared to the recently emerged talents in England (Cole Palmer, Ollie Watkins) and even compared to Kobbie Mainoo - Wharton, for example, almost never dribbles, relying only on vision and passing.

Adam Wharton's heat map from Wyscout Player Report

Physically, he is well-built, with a low center of gravity that gives him strength in his legs and an explosiveness that allows him to think before playing. His Blackburn teammate, Daniel Ayala, noted how Wharton "always seemed to have time on the ball, even though he was under a lot of pressure, and he would never lose it."

His father said he is a solitary type but on the field, he connects well with his teammates and his range of passes is as broad as it is bold: he is not one of those defensive midfielders who only passes horizontally, Wharton keeps his head up and looks for a teammate forward.

Tough in tackles when it comes to defending, Wharton is complete in all respects, perfect for a two-man midfield like that of Crystal Palace and formerly at Blackburn. It remains to be seen in a potential midfield trio whether he would be more useful as a playmaker or as a box-to-box midfielder for possession and containment.

Wharton has fast-tracked his career but has done so while keeping his feet on the ground, as if it were inevitable that he would arrive where he is now. Next year, he will play his first full season in the Premier League and, if he continues as he currently is, you can be sure that his name will start appearing in the notebooks of the best teams in the league (if it isn’t already there…).

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